Flood relief program fails families

April 1, 2019

LEWISBURG — A hazard mitigation program that was rolled out in a cautiously optimistic presentation to Greenbrier County residents three months after the deadly 2016 flood has failed thus far to fulfill even the most modest expectations.

And according to local emergency management officials, that failure has left 48 Greenbrier County families in limbo. Their homes having been rendered uninhabitable by the flood, those four dozen families found that potential funding to rebuild outside the floodway or elevate their houses had been washed away by the state’s decision to “re-prioritize” projects.

No longer were homes in the areas hardest-hit by 2016′s disaster designated a high priority for relief through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP); suddenly, priorities “flipped,” in the words of Greenbrier County OES deputy director Paula Brown.

And that “f lip” placed high-profile public infrastructure projects first in line for funding, while at the same time relegating those 48 families living in Gov. Jim Justice’s home county to last place — least likely ever to receive HMGP relief.

Funded primarily through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), HMGP offers four basic program options — property acquisition (also known as a buyout), demolition and rebuilding, elevation, or relocation. Buyout is the only option open to people whose property is located in the floodway.

Although funding is mostly federal, the state is responsible for assigning priorities to the applications received, forwarding on to FEMA those which — in the state’s opinion — offer the best value for the cost of the project. FEMA reviews the projects and funds those it approves, largely following the state’s recommendations.

During the program’s October 2016 rollout, state hazard mitigation officials encouraged flood victims to file applications for grants, but cautioned that demand was sure to outstrip the available funding pool, meaning the projects deemed to be of the highest priority would be the most likely to receive funding.

Brown reported to the Greenbrier County Commission in a public meeting last week that, over the last few months, her office had received one approval to acquire six flood-damaged properties out of 41 requested. Three elevations were also granted.